Assistive technology in fiction

Stats have been turning up searches for fictional assistive technology. There are a couple of ways I can take that: as a “wish list” of futuristic technology or as assistive technology in fiction. I’ll use the latter.

I have to start with William Horwood’s beautiful Skallagrigg. Because one of the protagonists becomes a game programmer and writes interactive fiction based on her life with quadriplegic CP, computers figure heavily. Since the book was published in 1986, set in the 70s onward, and narrated partly in the 00s, it contains some fascinating (and nostalgic, depending on your age) mentions of early assistive technology as well as personal computers and interactive fiction. Esther Marquand begins on a Possum typewriter and eventually acquires a mini-writer, a disguised Microwriter. Today it would be a CyKey or BAT.

Silent Words/Forever Friends is the occasionally sentimental but interesting biography and poetry of David Eastham, who used a letter board and a Sharp Memowriter to communicate and write.

In the dark-humored The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, the title character has dysgraphia and uses a typewriter to pray. (The “miracle” is half sarcastic.)

This list is rather short. I admit I tend not to read books featuring disabilities lately, because the ones I find either nauseate or anger me.

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2 Responses to Assistive technology in fiction

  1. Jesse the K says:

    Ah! Skallagrigg! The computer game Esther creates is, in a way, a prosthetic for nondisabled people to understand something of the lives of folks in instituitions. While I loathe simulations, it seems the tech is now available to create virtual environment in which a typical person’s capabilities result in disability.

  2. hand2mouth says:

    Yeah — I’m with you on simulations. One school advertised their upcoming “Awareness Day,” complete with simulations, as “a kind of traveling carnival.” And all I could think was some cross between “Ouch!” and “!” and “WTF?”

    Skallagrigg is ironic in that, for all Esther’s game tried to evoke empathy and awareness (in the real sense), it seems that readers with disabilities comprise most of the book’s fans. Not that the book isn’t problematic in places, but I remember feeling amazed on first reading at how much empathy the book contained compared to how most books portray disability. (This was before I read that Horwood based Esther on his daughter.) It was wonderful that somebody had “gotten” so much. Finally there was a book that empathized with PWD and that PWD might empathize with. As far as the novel getting others to empathize with PWD, though, as I’d hoped it might, I doubt those who really need to read it ever would or had — or if they did, it would be the “I’m so glad it’s not me…so brave” reaction. Which is, of course, the pitfall of most “awareness” programs.

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